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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Headline: ‘Crackdown on Lazy Teachers’

By Peter DeWitt — February 03, 2015 4 min read
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What a pathetic headline. But its sexy isn’t it? It has everything we need for a headline. A “crackdown”...because we want heads to roll and “Lazy teachers”...because we must somehow believe that teachers are lazy. They stroll in right before the kids arrive and hurry up and leave as soon as the busses roll.

Nothing can be further from the truth.

Teachers arrive well before their students and stay well after those students go home. The throw away students that others seem not to care about are the ones that teachers want to take home. While many people sleep, teachers lie awake thinking about their students who don’t have enough to eat or come to school unwashed.

While we argue about high stakes testing and teacher evaluation, most teachers are too busy working with students with social-emotional issues to look up to see what is happening around them in the media. As Governors like Andrew Cuomo from New York talk about underperforming results, teachers walk into the classroom everyday even though they get little support from the media or politicians.

After all, our education system is built on a political one...not a pedagogical one.

But one recent newspaper article highlighted how pathetic the abuse of teachers can be in the media.

A Dig From Down Under

Recently, I was working with schools in Australia for 2 ½ weeks. One morning in Western Australia I went down to have breakfast at my hotel and next to the coffee machine was a newspaper. The headline said, “Teacher Warning: Crackdown on Teacher Standards.” When I switched to the online version, it the headline had the word “lazy” used instead of Teacher Standards.

Considering I was heading to work with teachers on a Saturday, the headline with “Teacher Warning” stood out to me more than normal. When I saw the online version I was irritated. Do lazy teachers work on Saturdays? Here is the picture I took before I headed out to work with teachers.

And then the online version...

First of all, I think as an education reporter Bethany should probably do a bit more investigating before reporting a story. Yes, I realize she was reporting on a story focusing on the thoughts of Education Department director-general Sharyn O’Neill but she does have a responsibility to share the other side.

Oh wait...in one line she did write, “Ms O’Neill said, though the majority of WA’s teachers were excellent, there were some who were “ill-matched for teaching”.

A few hours later, when I walked into the Saturday morning session of professional development, I read the headline and part of the story to the participants. One very vocal teacher suggested we ignore because she said, “That’s just the newspaper in the WA (Western Australia). We don’t listen to them.

Unfortunately for that teacher, readers see that headline and believe it. Those adults who did not have a positive experience in school read it and agree with it. And by ignoring it because it’s the next negative headline only perpetuates the issue. They should be angry that they were giving their time, and were fully engaged, on a Saturday before the school year began and the newspaper that should represent them suggested something very different.

Why is their negative dialogue about education? Because we allow it. As a school principal I was so tired of principals sitting behind closed doors complaining about new mandates and accountability who would never say anything in the public.

School leaders, parents and teachers need to stand up against the headlines. We need to show that we are not what the media so easily conveys. We cannot ignore the negative dialogue and move forward in a positive direction. We can’t bury our heads in the sand to negative words, and suddenly say it doesn’t bother us.

My colleague Nancy Flannigan at Education Week Teacher wrote a brilliant blog focusing on the 9 Reasons Teachers are Unwilling to Stand Up for Their Profession. One of her main reasons that she believes teachers don’t stand up for themselves is,

Pervasive anti-teacher attitude in media and policy-making: Politicians in both parties have painted us into a corner. When we raise a legitimate concern about education policy (student standardized test results used to evaluate a teacher's effectiveness, for example), the public, which knows little of all the work we've done and the expertise we've developed in the field, considers us to be "whiners."

I agree with Nancy and would add school leaders to that list. Don’t complain behind closed doors if you plan on doing nothing about it in person, because that makes you part of the problem and not part of the solution. Don’t complain about mandates and accountability to your teachers if you don’t have the strength to say anything in public.

In the End

This is not just an issue in Western Australia. This is a global issue about how the media and politicians perpetuate a myth. Should we do something about teachers who are not meeting the needs of students? Absolutely. But let’s not use headlines to make it seem like it’s a pervasive issues and add one line that says most teachers are great.

We should have more of a crackdown on politicians who get on their soapbox and spew negative and uninformed dialogue and we should definitely have a crackdown on lazy reporters who seem to lack the energy and inspiration to give the other side of the teaching profession which includes working with diverse populations and spending countless hours loving kids who aren’t treated with love by their very own parents.

We should be thankful we have teachers who walk into the classrooms everyday even though they are given negative headlines in newspapers and political speeches by politicians they most likely voted for long before they realized those politicians didn’t respect them, and we should be thankful that our students have someone who greets them every day with a hug and kind word...someone who has spent countless hours trying to meet their needs.

Nah...a negative headline is so much more sexy.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.